Atharva Veda : Meat Eating – Ethics and Morals ?
This one is for the hard-boiled moralising Hindu, who is always on the quick to advocate for a vegetarian diet for everyone on the earth. His pitch is intensely moral, suggesting that flesh eating is exceedingly immoral for human beings. And, he does not fail to demand or passionately expect that his interlocutors stop consuming animal flesh for good.
Frequently, when without recourse to any further rationale, our Hindu “ Veg-Is-Pure ” Pundit will snap back :
“ Show us where in our religious or traditional texts, Vedas and Shastras, is it indicated that animal flesh is approved food for human beings ! Show us … “
I have always believed that what one eats is a matter decided by one’s income, culture or choice. Besides, non-vegetarians are invariably omnivorous, even if vegetarians are not. Over some decades, consumption of non-vegetarian food has begun to be unsustainable on environmental resources we globally have, the huge human population we need to feed to provide basic nourishment, which is simply vegetarian in the main, and the prohibitive opportunity cost humanity is paying for the fad.
Meat eating has hence become an ethical issue; though not a moral one. I would concede that meat consumption becomes irrelevant and any felt need for it drops off our life’s radar at a certain point along our spiritual evolution, when one is materially content and largely free from the worldly business of ambitious exertions. After a point, it even becomes unwanted and undesirable. But that, for one, is truly a consequence of individual preference, no matter the cause; and, two, less than 3% of the total population would actually verge on such spiritual excellence as would present meat-eating with moral dimensions for oneself.
There is reason to believe that, at a certain level of personal evolution, meat, especially red, does qualify the unaware or unsuspecting mind with a measure of aggression, a quality no longer welcome and even harmful. Which, in general, is not the case with vegetables and food preparations made from plant derived products.
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This hymn, paraphrased from Atharva Veda
[ Book VI, Canto LXXI, of Ralph T.H. Griffith, Hymns of the Atharva Veda (1895) ]
expresses a Vedic priest’s benediction upon food in general and meat forms in particular.
All of it is described as objects that “ pleases and delights ” the man.
Clearly, consumption of meat was not proscribed in Sanatan Dharma, the Hindu way of life.
On the contrary, it seems to have been a common fare, much desired and relished.
ATHARVA VEDA – BOOK VI : HYMN LXXI
[ I ] Paraphrased
A Priest’s Benediction Upon Food
O Agni, the Hotr !
Make all that I eat
As sacrifice well-offered …
All food, of varied form and nature
Whether bought with gold
Or received as a gift …
Horse, sheep, goat or bullock.
Whatever … sacrificed or not
Bestowed by men
And sanctioned by the Fathers
That comes to me
Pleases and delights …
May Agni, the Hotr
Render as sacrifice well-offered.
O Gods !
Whatever I eat unjustly
Of food bestowed and received
With a measure of doubt
Whether to accept or refuse
That I now swallow…
May the greatness of Universal Being
– Vaisvaanara, the mighty
Make it sweet and blessed to me.
[ II ] As rendered by Ralph T.H. Griffith, Hymns of the Atharva Veda (1895)
A Priest’s Benediction After Meat
1 What food I eat of varied form and nature,
Food whether gold, or horse, sheep, goat, or bullock,
Whatever gift I have received,
May Agni the Hotar make it as sacrifice well-offered.
2 Whatever, sacrificed or not, hath reached me,
Bestowed by men and sanctioned by the Fathers,
Whereby my heart seems to leap up,
May Agni the Hotar make that as sacrifice well-offered.
3 What food I eat unjustly, Gods !
Or, doubtful between bestowing and refusing, swallow,
Through greatness of Vaisvānara the mighty
May that same food be sweet to me and blessed !